Below is a summary of our Scoping Comments submitted by Amigos Bravos to the New Mexico Environmental Department advocating for stronger water quality standards. Input, comments, or suggestions on the proposed amendments should be submitted to Jennifer Fullam (505-827-2637) at firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, August 17, 2020.
Amigos Bravos notes that the State’s obligations pursuant to the Clean Water Act (“CWA”) are to “protect the public health or welfare, enhance the quality of water,” and wherever possible, to ensure that water quality allows for the “protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for recreation in and on the water”.
Similarly, the New Mexico Water Quality Act directs the Commission to adopt standards that “shall at a minimum protect the public health or welfare, enhance the quality of water and serve the purposes of the Water Quality Act”. These goals, in particular the emphasis protecting the public health and welfare and enhancing water quality, represent what is a fundamental truth in New Mexico—that water is the lifeblood of our communities, ecosystems, economy, and way of life.
- Federal requirements for adopting more protective standards are not as stringent as those for downgrading standards. Federal regs only require UAAs for downgrading uses not for adopting more protective uses. Amigos Bravos urges NMED to keep this in mind and implement a precautionary principle approach when considering adopting more protective standards and not require as rigorous a process for upgrading standards as is required for downgrading standards.
- Amigos Bravos urges NMED to consider the current and future, long reaching effects of climate change on water quality in New Mexico’s rivers and streams. Climate change is resulting in changed precipitation patterns, increased evapotranspiration, and an overall decrease in water supply. Less water in our rivers and streams without a corresponding decrease in pollutant loading will lead to increased pollutant concentrations in New Mexico’s water bodies. The Department itself has recognized that “the lack of flow is a significant cause for impairment in New Mexico’s waters”. While we realize that this is a very challenging problem to address both generally as a whole as well as specifically in documents like the surface water quality standards, we urge NMED to identify concrete ways to strengthen our standards to mitigate the impacts of our changing climate. Ideas could include developing flow standards and getting rid of mixing zones. While flow standards will not be able to be enforced, as water quantity and water rights are the purview of the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission, they could provide useful guidance and information to us a state in determining the water quality impacts of a changing climate. In addition, getting rid of mixing zones would be an appropriate step given the massive changes and fluctuations in flow we are seeing and expect to see as a result of a changing climate. While we realize it can be a challenge to identify specific concrete changes in our standards to help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, and that it really requires a mind shift and potentially drastically different approach to managing water quality, we encourage NMED to engage in a hard look and analysis to identify concrete steps and specific changes to the regulations. We would welcome the opportunity to engage further and provide support to NMED on this issue.
- Amigos Bravos recommends adopting specific requirements and steps to be taken if degradation is found in Outstanding Waters. For example, there could be requirements in 126.96.36.199 to sample in these waters more frequently, to engage with landowners and other stakeholders, and prohibit all short and temporary degradation besides that associated with restoration.
- There are a number of other areas that Amigos Bravos would like NMED to action on and incorporate into their petition, including:
- Developing and proposing numeric nutrient criteria to protect New Mexico’s water resources
- Developing and proposing wetland specific water quality standards.
- Limiting temporary standards to 5-years.
- Consider changing the unwieldy name of “Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRWs)” to something simpler such as “Outstanding Waters (OWs)” or “New Mexico Outstanding Waters (NMOWs)”.
- Better clarify the relationship between the list of toxic pollutants found in 188.8.131.5203 NMAC and the definition of toxic pollutants in 20.6.2 NMAC.
- Consider getting rid of the limited aquatic life use and instead utilize segment specific criteria when necessary.
Amigos Bravos thanks the New Mexico Environment Department for providing this scoping opportunity and for the upcoming opportunity to comment on the Department’s draft petition. These public engagement opportunities are beyond what is required in the regulations and Amigos Bravos thanks the NMED for its transparency and stakeholder engagement.